Monday, January 2, 2012
Questing Carolina -- Searching For (and Finding) the Perfect Barbecue
My mission was simple: eat barbecue twice over two days in eastern North Carolina. The only rule: recommendations on where to eat cannot be culled from self-proclaimed "expert" internet sources, but must come from the mouths of locals in purely anecdotal form. Sounds simple, right? I knew from earlier trips through the Carolinas that the sheer ubiquity of barbecue is in no way a guarantee of quality pig. Like all places hallowed for a specific culinary thing, the Carolinas have their share of culinary grifters and flim-flam men all too happy to peddle sub-par pig to any poor sucker with out-of-state plates.
After a meal like this, dessert is a non starter. A no go. All of the available internal real estate has been used up. As in: no vacancies, dude. But something told me to order the cobbler and the banana pudding. While the cobbler was quite tasty, it was the pudding that blew me away. It was nothing like anything I had ever tasted. It resembled pudding in almost no way. So I asked the manager for the recipe and was told it's a closely guarded secret. If I had to guess, the pudding was a delightfully baffling mixture of sliced bananas, sour cream, Cool Whip, and powdered vanilla pudding. But Whatever is in the stuff, the banana pudding was pure sugary magic and I ate every last bite.
Wilber's Barbecue is vast and very nearly the size of a German beer hall. On the late-afternoon, post-lunch rush occasion of my visit, it was still crowded, in sections, with the kind of locals one finds only in North Carolina, the kind who don't smile, even when tickled. Southern hospitality might very well have stopped outside Wilber's door, but I remained undaunted. Until I met my waitress.
Lastly, I tasted the chopped pork. I don't know what made me eat it last, or why the culinary cosmos would speak to me in such strange and unexpected ways. But Wilber's chopped pork was, without question, the best chopped pork I've ever put in my mouth. THE. BEST. EVER. This is not hyperbole, folks. This is not some jerk-off food blogger correcting an otherwise questionable food experience by writing false epiphany into an untrue happy ending. No, this was it. This was the best barbecue of my life. The best and most perfectly seasoned pork dish I've ever eaten. The most perfectly smoked piece of meat I'd ever put my mouth. More telling perhaps: Wilber's was the only chopped pork I've ever come across that made me know that saucing the meat would be an act of self-sabatage and a crime against all that was holy and good in the world. How could this be possible, I wondered? How could such an idiosyncratic place like Wilber's produce something so delicious, so truly amazing, that it would make me want to sing its praises from high atop the binary mountaintop to whomever could be troubled to listen?
I waved my elderly Asian waitress over and asked her the same question. She smiled with perfect understanding.
"More sweet tea," she said. "Coming right up."
I paid my bill, bought some of Wilber's bottled sauce, and rushed outside to follow a sudden impulse. This impulse took me all the way behind Wilber's Barbecue and to a gravel lot between the restaurant and an adjacent cornfield. There it was, dear readers. There was my answer. And in a great halo of hickory smoke. There was the great barbecue oracle foretelling all things truly great about Wilber's pork had I only the insight to investigate its tellings before sitting down to eat.
Your link to Bar-B-Que House:
The Bar B Que House - Best BBQ on the Beach
Your link to Wilber's Barbecue:
Barbecue, Wilber's Barbecue Home
And love them both for what they truly are: culinary treasures.